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Our daughter’s wedding is coming up, and my wife is spending all my money. She spent $50,000 for the engagement, $20,000 for the bridal shower, and so far almost another $20,000 on the swanee. The hall she “had to” book cost $200,000 – and that’s excluding the details. Now she wants to rent out a restaurant for her parents’ anniversary. Our shalom bayit is going downhill because I’m stressed from all this, and every time I try to bring this up, we argue. What do you suggest I do?
Dear Stressed Spouse,
Our sages teach us (Rambam, Hilchot Ishut 15:19), “A husband is obligated to love his wife as he loves himself, and honor her more than the honor that he demands for himself.” Understandably, a woman will need various things which a man might consider petty, yet her needs are often real and must be respected and accounted for. This certainly does not obligate a husband to satisfy all of his wife’s requests, but it does obligate him to deal with them with sensitivity, and to recognize the fact that some requests which may appear farfetched or unnecessary might actually be reasonable, particularly in light of the wife’s background, social framework, and financial status. When it comes to making a wedding, for example, the figures you mention would certainly sound outrageous to many people, but for wealthy people these expenditures are commonplace and even expected. And thus while a husband is not obligated to pay for everything his wife wantswhen planning a wedding, he is required to show sensitivity to her needs and concerns. These may include peer pressure, the sentimental needto ensure that this once-in-a-lifetime event will be special and unforgettable, and her anxious desire to please or impress thedaughter’s in-laws, amongst numerous other concerns.
Therefore, my first piece of advice would be to realize that your wife is not necessarily being petty. She likely has legitimate reasons for wanting to spend so much money, and does not intend to cause you undue stress.
Most ideal would be, if you and your wife could work things out together on your own. The best backdrop for negotiations will always be a relaxed environment and a particular time where there are good feelings amongst both parties. When people feel threatened by one another, they usually resort to unrelenting defense of their position and intense effort to pursue their objective. But when the parties are not tense or under pressure, they are not focused on standing their ground, and are thus more open to other options.
Try to create a scenario where your wife will understand that her feelings are truly being taken into consideration. If she has the sense that you are genuinely concerned about her feelings (beware: superficial flattering won’t cut it), she will feel more at ease, which will enable her to think more clearly and rationally about the situation. Moreover, she will be more inclined to want to reciprocate and take your feelings and concerns into account as well.
After creating such an environment and assuring your wife that her needs are important to you, work out the finances with her on pen and paper as a team. Then after going over the facts and figures, you could both think things over for a few days, and then try to end up with a compromised agreement which you could both accept. If you cannot reach an agreement, the next step would be to consult with a mutually accepted third party whose opinion you both trust and respect, and leave all the final decisions to him.
In conclusion, it must be emphasized that your situation involves two crucial Jewish values – “compromise” and “shalom bayit”. Each of these ideals offers immense benefits, including enhanced physical and emotional wellbeing, and is thus worthy of large sacrifice, (see Rabbenu Yonah to Avot 1:18, Ramban to Devarim 6:18) something that you must both consider when sitting together to work out an arrangement.
May Hashem assist you and your wife and guide you along the most beneficial path for your family, along which you can continue living together harmoniously for many happy and healthy years to come.
With warm wishes and Torah blessings,
Rabbi Yechiel Elbaz